Last weekend I was waxing lyrical to a friend about how London is great for entertaining the kids whilst not sending the adults round the bend at the same time.
It is true that many attractions are aimed at the little darlings and conveniently forget the poor adults trudging along in their wake, carrying all manner of bags and cast-off coats and jumpers. But many attractions will manage to have everyone cock-a-hoop with joy, making the trip to town a regular activity rather than a once-endured hardship (like our last trip to Legoland!)
Firstly let’s deal with cost and highlight a couple of things that London has for free because there is no doubt that visiting London with kids can clear out a wallet like an over ripe nappy can clear out a bouncy castle!
Some of the best museums in the whole world are in London and are free. This is not only financially important but also, because they are free you don’t feel like you have to “get the value” by seeing everything in one trip!
Just pop into the Natural History Museum and see the dinosaurs. Visit the British Museum and see the Rosetta Stone – the Egyptians is daughter number one’s project this term. Go crazy in the Science museum with some seriously fun hands on stuff!
Got a budding artist in the family? Head to the Tate Modern and see some really weird arty stuff or the National Art Gallery and see an old master – something that you all will recognise however much you know about art!
So now you have ticked off all the educational learny stuff, without it costing you a dime, you can go a bit crazy.
At the top of my paid for list of attractions are London Dungeon, London Eye and Buckingham Palace. Normally I wouldn’t suggest Buck Pal but there is no doubt that it is super and real live princesses and princes have lived there and this year there is a special exhibit called Royal Childhood which could be really interesting for would be princesses of all ages.
London Dungeon is a bit of fun and since it moved out of the railway arches at London Bridge to just along from the Southbank they have got rid of all those tired old dummies that we remember from when we were kids.
When we go to London (and however much we travel around) we usually try to do one journey by foot. Apart from being really interesting it also helps to tire the little darlings out.
Great walks include from Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, Piccadilly Circus through Leicester Square to Covent Garden, Covent Garden to the Southbank (with great views along the river) Southbank to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster up to Trafalgar Square and lastly Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace.
For meals we usually take a picnic for lunch and eat at a restaurant for the evening meal. London’s Royal parks are great for picnics and for letting the kids burn off lots of energy: consider the area round the Serpetine in Hyde Park and the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. Great places with lots to see and do as well as running around like a mad thing!
For evening meals in London we try and eat like grown-ups on the basis that, if we do end up going to McDonalds, the chances are that, at the end of what could be a childhood-defining day, when you ask the kids what they enjoyed most, you run the risk of them saying the b\**dy burger!
If you really don’t fancy risking a proper restaurant (and a pre-theatre meal later in the day could be a good option here, if you are going to the theatre, as the restaurant will be a bit more relaxed and the meal more quickly delivered) then there is always Planet Hollywood or the Rainforest Cafe. They may still say the enjoyed the burger most, but at least it will be a little bit special.
Of course having just thrown a whole load of destinations at you, it might be a good point to talk about getting around whilst visiting London with kids, as most people assume this will be tricky and pricey, but it’s a lot easier than you’d expect.
The bus tours will get you round and give you some interesting knowledge, but they can be expensive. Riding on the top deck of a red London bus can be just as much fun and much cheaper with a travelcard.
Kids under 11 travel free although they may need an Oyster Photocard if they look older (they are available free).
London Travelcards also offer fantastic discounts for kids aged 11 to 15: find out more at Transport for London’s website.
Most of the good stuff in London is in Zones 1 and 2 so unless you are planning on going to Hampton Court Palace, Greenwich and the Cutty Sark , Kew Gardens or Wembley Stadium then the basic card is all you will need.
If you are staying in town for at least a week, you could move into a finlay brewer noted property. Surrounded by parks, restaurants, and waterways, you might find a lot to try with your kids, enough to keep you occupied for days.
But if you have the energy to spend the evening out, you might like to end it with a show. These are not the shows you get at your local theatre: CBEEBIES, The Sooty Show or that purple dinosaur!
Here you can entertain kids and adults with the same stunning West End Show. At the moment the top tips are Matilda, The Lion King and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
You could also add to that list Warhorse and I Can’t Sing (that is probably the only sentence you will see those two shows appearing together!). Two hugely different shows, one from the children’s writer Michael Morpogo about a boy and his friendship with a horse that is taken off to the trenches of Wold War One and the other an irrelevant piece of nonsense about the X Factor with silly characters and an even sillier plot!
Of course there are shows like The Tiger Who Came To Tea and Horrible Histories… but who is paying here? Ah! and yes! I better mention, having bought up the subject of paying, that kids pay the same as adults in the London theatre.
That means if you pay 65 for a top price seat for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so do they. So you might like to consider a couple of things.
Cheaper seats! The Stalls, in most theatres, is fine for adults but the rake (the slope of the seating) can be insignificant when you are 4 foot tall!
The rake in the upper circle can be quite much more noticeable so, no matter how small you are, you should be able to see over the head of the man in front! Yes the seats are further away but they are also only about 30 or 40. And ticket sellers in London have to tell you whether the seats are restricted view so don’t be afraid of running the risk of buying 4 tickets behind a pillar!
The other money saving wheeze in London’s Theatreland is Kid’s Week, which is more like a fortnight and has been known to last a month! It is in August and is when you can buy tickets for kiddies to go free! Most shows get involved and savings can be substantial. This is organised by the same people who run TKTS – the half price ticket booth in Leicester Square – and yes the mathematically switched on amongst you will have noticed that if you get the kids in for free when paying full price for adults that is the same as paying half price for everyone if you have a family of 2 adults and 2 children, so you can turn any week into Kids Week!
Actually these sorts of discounts are available all over: it is just the packaging that changes – whether you are getting a free pre-theatre dinner or a cheaper theatre and hotel package. It is just the marketing people wrapping up the offer with a different colour bow!
So you’ve got through a day in London with the Kids and they hopefully haven’t said they are bored and you haven’t developed a nervous twitch!
If you are visiting London with kids for a couple of days then you can spread the excitement: after all there is a lot more to do and I haven’t mentioned river cruises, I only mentioned in passing Greenwich, I forgot to mention the street entertainers around Covent Garden completely and, in London, you are also just a quick journey from the Warner Brother’s Studio and the Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden… but you have got to have something to discover yourselves!
Author Simon Harding owns a theatre and event packaging site www.theatrebreaks.com that offers itineraries for cultural travel all over the UK – for couples, families and school groups. He recently wrote an e-guide to getting the very best out of your trip to the theatre and you can download “London Theatre and Theatre Breaks” for free.